To become a parent is to become a nag:
- “Turn off the lights when you leave the room!”
- “It’s your turn to take out the trash!”
- “Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
Instead of fighting with your children all the time, why not make them part of your team? If they’re careless around the house, perhaps it’s because they aren’t really invested in keeping it running smoothly and economically. You might be surprised at how much your kids understand, and how cooperative they can become, when you start treating them like adults.
It’s your job as an adult to keep track of all the money that comes into the household and to pay the bills. Hopefully there’s a budget and enough money to cover all expenses, with some left over to save and invest. But if you’re like most Americans, you struggle to make ends meet. Although everything you do is for your family’s sake, it often seems like you’re the “bad cop,” spoiling all their fun. To combat these negative attitudes, challenge your kids to help keep expenses in line. To do this, you’ll have to take the time to educate them about how a household is actually run.
The next time you sit down to pay bills, show them what you’re doing. Gather together the bills for household expenses like electricity, gas, oil, water and sewer, telephone, cable, and landscaping. Children old enough to read can be shown the bills themselves.
Explain to kids that utilities like water, gas, electricity and cable come into a building through pipes and wires. A meter placed near where the pipes or wires enter the house measures what is being used. Electricity, for example, is measured in kilowatt hours (kWh). One kWh of electricity supplies enough energy to light ten 100-watt lamps for one hour. If you know where your meters are located—on the outside wall of your home or in the basement perhaps—you can show them to your children. If a utility is in use at the time, the needles and dials on the meter will be moving.
Make a list together of all the things you can think of that use electricity in your home: refrigerator, microwave, washing machine, dishwasher, computers, air conditioners, lights, clocks, hair dryers, cell phone chargers, and so on. Make another list of ways you use water: sinks, tubs, toilets, refrigerators with icemakers, washing machines, garden hoses. Do the same for any other utilities and services you have.
Now look at the bills themselves. For each one, are you being charged a flat rate, a usage fee, or a combination of both? Ask your children to think of ways you could cut down on each bill.
Here are some government web sites designed for kids with ways to save water and energy:
http://www.epa.gov/watersense/kids/index.html; http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=kids.kids_index. Search the web for many more ideas.
Make it a family challenge to cut down the amount you spend each month on utilities and household services. Plan to reward your kids in some way for their efforts. You might pay them the difference saved, or place the amount in their savings accounts. Maybe you’d prefer to schedule a family outing or a special meal if a certain goal is reached. Remember that the cost of utilities varies with the seasons, so you might want to be comparing a monthly bill with the one from the same month one year previously.
If your children are old enough, they might be able to take over some of the services you have been paying an outsider to do. Do you pay for yard cleanup like mowing, weeding, and leaf raking? Housecleaning or car washing?
Once cutting down on household bills becomes a game to your children—with prizes awarded— you may see them becoming very frugal. You may even be able to retire from your job as chief nag in the family. Instead, your children may be nagging you!
Replicating the Utilities Savings in Your Family’s Finances
Thinking about the ways your family can become more utility cost-conscious may also help you to consider similar ways to streamline your family’s budget and curtail spending as it related to your household’s finances.